Seán O’Connor reports from Oriel Park.
A Darragh Leahy brace and strikes from Pat Hoban and John Martin secured three points for Stephen O’Donnell’s side on Friday evening, as Dundalk remain unbeaten at home this season.
Dundalk came into the derby in fifth place. Stephen O’Donnell’s new look side have made a steady start to the 2022 league campaign, with just two losses in their opening 12 coming into Friday’s game.
Drogheda began Friday five points behind their neighbours, although they have beaten the Lilywhites twice this year, in the Jim Malone cup and in last month’s league meeting.
Kevin Doherty’s side have earned hard-fought draws against league leaders Derry City and FAI Cup Champions St Patrick’s Athletic in recent weeks.
Stephen O’Donnell was without his leading goal scorer Steven Bradley after his red card during last weekend’s win over Shelbourne. Keith Ward came in to replace Bradley while Dan Williams sat out injured.
Drogheda had a number of players missing for the derby due to injury and sickness, admitting this week that some had picked up chest infections. Adam Foley and Darragh Markey were out injured for Drogheda while Evan Weir was suspended after being sent off against Sligo Rovers last week. Keith Cowan and Luke Heeney came back in to the starting eleven.
The sides stepped onto the pitch at Oriel Park to a raucous atmosphere. Large white banners greeted the home side as the away support also made their presence felt with flares and flags.
The first chance of the evening came to the visitors. Dayle Rooney’s dangerous ball in found Dane Massey who was a fraction too late to the ball.
On 20 minutes, a fabulous turn by Greg Sloggett opened up space on the edge of the Drogheda box. Sloggett found Keith Ward at the back post but Ward failed to get the shot away.
Pat Hoban went close minutes later, but couldn’t keep his header underneath the crossbar, as the Lilywhites ramped up the pressure. Joe Adams was causing havoc down the right wing, sending threatening crosses into Sam Long’s box.
The home side took a deserved lead five minutes before the break. Ward’s free-kick cracked the crossbar, and Leahy was first to pounce, getting down low to head in his first goal for Dundalk.
Ward missed a gilt-edged chance at the start of the second half. Thundering through the heart of the Drogheda back-line, Ward steadied himself in front of the on-rushing Long, but totally misjudged his effort and sent the ball wide.
Dundalk found the net minutes later, courtesy of some horrendous Drogheda defending. Macari’s low cross from the right-wing slipped past three red shirts and dropped to Leahy’s feet, who stabbed home his second goal of the evening.
The hosts made it three just before the hour mark. Hoban scored from the penalty spot for his fifth goal this season after Cowan handled inside the box.
Rooney tried to pull one back for the visitors, but his free kick sailed wide of Long’s goal.
The Lilywhites almost went further ahead with 20 minutes remaining. Ward’s beautiful cross found Daniel Kelly, who’s volley was cleverly saved by Long. The Drogheda goalkeeper, on loan from Lincoln City was called into action minutes later, tipping an awkward cross over the crossbar to safety.
On the 75-minute mark, Dayle Rooney found Andrew Quinn at Dundalk’s back post, but his driving effort was well saved by Nathan Shepperd.
Brennan pulled a late consolation back for the visitors, curling the ball past Shepperd after a sweet pass from Dylan Grimes. Martin came off the bench to put some gloss on the score line, scoring his second goal of the season in added time to make it 4-1.
The result lifts Dundalk up two places to third in the table. Up next for them is a trip to struggling UCD next week, while Drogheda host FAI Cup champions St Patrick’s Athletic.
Dundalk: Nathan Shepperd; Mark Connolly (Brian Gartland 63), Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy, Lewis Macari; Paul Doyle, Greg Sloggett (Sam Bone 76), Keith Ward (Ryan O'Kane 85); Joe Adams, Patrick Hoban (c) (David McMillan 76), Daniel Kelly (John Martin 76).
Subs not used: Peter Cherrie, Mayowa Animasahun, John Mountney, Mark Hanratty.
Booked: Stephen O'Donnell (42).
Sent off: None.
Drogheda United: Sam Long; Dane Massey (c), Keith Cowan, George Poynton (Dylan Grimes 63), Andrew Quinn, Sean Roughan; Gary Deegan, Darragh Nugent (Ryan Brennan 55), Dayle Rooney (Mohammad Boudiaf 85); Chris Lyons, Luke Heeney.
Subs not used: Aaron Davis, Colin McCabe, James Clarke, Dean Williams.
Booked: Gary Deegan (65) Luke Heeney (89).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Sean Grant.
extratime.com Player of the Match: Keith Ward (Dundalk)